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Column: Howell Mill home has murder, historic mysteries
by Thornton Kennedy
Neighbor Newspapers Columnist
February 19, 2014 11:50 AM | 3263 views | 1 1 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
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There are two mysteries surrounding a home on Howell Mill Road just south of Peachtree Creek in Buckhead. The first involves the unsolved murder of Margaret Alston Refoule. The second is the house itself.

I first came across Refoule’s tragic story in an article in Atlanta magazine by Northsider Amy Bonesteel Smith, “Murder at Peachtree Creek.” In it, Smith details the untimely death of Refoule and how the murder sent shock waves through the community.

May 14, 1947, Atlanta police discovered Refoule’s body in shallow water in the creek behind her home. Her feet tied together and her arm twisted behind her back, she had been strangled to death. Her wedding ring was missing and two diamond rings and a wristwatch had been taken from her house. Initially police believed she had interrupted a burglary and the burglar had killed her.

But as police investigated further they learned her husband Paul Refoule, an art teacher at the High Museum of Art in Midtown and Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, was having an affair with one of his students.

Paul Refoule was not from around here, which would prove problematic. He was a Frenchman the former Peggy Alston met in Paris while studying at the Sorbonne. The focus of the investigation quickly shifted to the unfaithful foreigner. Refoule, however, had many witnesses — his students at Oglethorpe who had been with him the day of murder — which proved he could not have committed the crime.

He was never charged and sued the police department for focusing on him when he had a solid alibi. Unfortunately his health took a turn during the investigation and he died in 1948. The case involving his wife remains unsolved.

The matter of the home in which the Refoules lived is more easily solved. At a Buckhead Heritage Society lecture a few weeks ago, president Wright Mitchell said the Refoule house may well be one of oldest buildings in Buckhead, if not the oldest. This is because of something hinted at in Franklin Garrett’s “Atlanta and Environs;” a footnote from an entry on Judge Clark Howell’s mill.

He writes, “The old stone building on the west side of Howell Mill Road, just south of Peachtree Creek, now incorporated in a residence, was not part of Howell’s mills. It was a unit of a woolen mill established by the Foster brothers of Madison … in the early 1880s.”

In “Atlanta and Environs, Volume III” published in 1987, historian Harold Martin, in a piece on the Peggy Refoule murder, said the old mill is a part of the home. Martin said the Refoules bought the old woolen mill and transformed it into a “striking modern home.”

Of course Garrett, in his book first published in 1954, references the old mill had been incorporated into a home, which today is shrouded by a fence and bushes and not easily seen from the road.

Either way, if that is the case and there is no reason to doubt it, Foster’s Woolen Mill built in 1882 is part of that house, and therefore is likely the oldest building still standing in its original location in Buckhead.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at thorntonkennedy@me.com.
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racomer2
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February 20, 2014
Great story and wasn't it a male student?

Some time in the late 1990's, early 2000's, there was a fantastic estate sale for the owner who had lived in the house for quite a while after the famous murder. The owner was linked with Neiman Marcus and was quite fashionable. The home was really in the midcentury modern taste of the time and was loaded with treasures. Some of the furniture was from Dunbar, designed by Edward Wormley, which is highly prized today. I still have some of the pieces from the estate. I remember standing in line waiting for the sale to start, while listening to someone tell the famous murder story. I hate to wait in line, but I must say that was one of the most engrossing waits I've ever experienced!!! Thanks for reminding me of the story.
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